In your home, you have an expectation of privacy. This is why the police are not generally allowed to enter your home without a warrant or your consent, at least in a situation that is not deemed to be an emergency. As a general rule, your home should remain private, and you have a right to tell officers they cannot enter unless exceptional circumstances apply to the situation in question.
But what about your trash? Say that the police believe that you have thrown away items that may help them get a warrant or that may be used as evidence in a case against you. You expect the items in your home to stay private, but does that mean that your trash is also your private property? Or are the police allowed to go through your trash and examine it in a search for evidence?
Location is the most important factor
Above all else, the location of your trash is going to determine what the police have a right to do. If it is in your home, then you have the same right to privacy that you would expect with anything else. Just because you’re throwing something away does not mean that it is fair game for the police to search for evidence because it is still located in your home. They have no more right to go through your trash bin than they do to go through your cupboards.
However, this presumption of privacy shifts once the trash leaves your property. If it is in a landfill or garbage dump, they can certainly look for evidence. They can even search through your trash bin after you put it by the curb. This is standard practice for those in relatively urban areas with consistent trash collection services.
Remember that most homeowners do not own the street in front of their house, so putting your bin on the street technically puts it on public property. This gives the police the ability to look through it if they would like, as you have given up your expectation of privacy by placing it away from your property.
Exploring your options
If you are facing legal charges, it’s very important to understand how this process works and all of the legal options that you have available to you. That way, you can make informed decisions about your defense strategy.